Preview: Eli Stone

Jonny Lee Miller and George Michael in Eli Stone

In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, ABC. Starts January 31, 2008
In the UK: Not yet acquired

God. He’s a slippery old bugger, particularly when you’re trying to make him a central theme of a mainstream television show.

Do you spend your time trying to prove he doesn’t exist? No, because you’ll be boycotted in minutes by various pressure groups, and it’ll be roughly an hour before a network executive pulls the plug on you, even assuming you didn’t annoy all the God-fearing, red-state audiences into not watching you in the first place.

Or do you come over all fundamentalist (cf Saving Grace), thus annoying the Hell out Muslims, atheists, et al, as well as any other fundamentalists that don’t share your particular view of the Bible?

Eli Stone goes for the much-trodden, wishy washy middle-path. To quote one of the characters, for any event, “there are two interpretations: the scientific and the divine.” Yes, joining Signs and I Am Legend in the exciting world of inoffensive ambiguity is Eli Stone, prophet at large. Or maybe not. It’s up to you. Your decision. We’re not telling you anything.

Plot (found on some spoiling stone tablets at the ABC web site)
Following on the success of their current hit Brothers and Sisters, Ken Olin (Alias), Marc Guggenheim and Greg Berlanti (Everwood) create a unique, character-driven drama that explores the very different worlds of law and spirituality in a humorous and heartfelt way. Combining the fantasy and spirituality from The Ghost Whisperer, sincerity and passion from The Practice and quirky humor from Monk, the show explores whether we can change the course of our lives in midstream.

Today, the worst thing happened to mercenary attorney Eli Stone. A case made him care. As if that’s not hard enough for a soulless shark, Eli’s also hallucinating — larger-than-life visions of pop stars and his dead relatives. Could it be that Eli’s not cut out to be a cutthroat lawyer but actually has a higher calling? Well, if the universe can bring his college girlfriend back to him, then maybe he needs to risk everything he’s worked for, including gunning for partner and his relationship with the boss’ daughter, to take on his own law firm. Eli’s as surprised as anyone that it works and that it feels so good.

Now, instead of defending evil mega-corporations, he’s fighting for the little guy in his law firm’s new pro-bono department. As for those visions, his doctor thinks it might be an aneurysm, just like the one that tortured his father. But Eli sees a greater possibility, a destiny to become a spiritual prophet. He might not have been anyone’s first choice but, given his looks, charm and intelligence, it’s an excellent one.

Eli Stone stars Jonny Lee Miller (Smith, Trainspotting), Natasha Henstridge (Commander-in-Chief), Loretta Devine (Grey’s Anatomy, Waiting To Exhale) and six-time Emmy® nominee Victor Garber (Alias, Legally Blonde). Over the years, the legal trade has earned billions… but with Eli Stone, it has finally made a prophet.

Is it any good?
In Hollywood and network TV drama, there are certain things that are a given: being autistic means being a bit quiet and playing with bricks, with no other side-effects or behavioural traits whatsoever; lawyers can win cases if they appeal to a jury’s heart with a warming closing summary; people who hear voices and listen to them aren’t schizophrenic and never do anything untoward; if there’s an inoffensive, brunette with a kid and hot, assertive blonde vying for the hero’s attention, it’s the brunette with baggage he should pick every time – because we don’t have madonna/whore complexes, oh no.

So it is with Eli Stone, which is best described as unchallenging light entertainment. Imagine for a second, you’re God. Yes, You move in mysterious ways. But if You’re going to pick a prophet, would you really pick a corporate lawyer and guess that his doing pro bono work is going to change the way the world looks at You? Will You send messages to him via easily misinterpretable building blocks and music, or give him a direct phone line to You? Oh, but wait, his name’s Eli which is lovely Old Testament name. Clearly he must have been destined to have been a prophet.

This is the kind of flabby argument for God’s existence that will get you laughed at by atheists.

But that’s how Eli Stone appears to work. Eli gets a vision/hallucination that might be caused by either a brain aneurism or God. Eli visits a Chinese acupuncturist/counsellor – who turns out to be more than he seems. A bit of needle stabbing prompts a memory that reveals the hidden meaning of the hallucination. Eli follows his memory and his heart and because he has faith and because God is on his side (maybe), he wins his case.

At least that’s how it works in the pilot episode, although given that each episode is going to be named after a George Michael song (for the stubbly kebab-eater is indeed the first of Eli’s visions), the “I want your sex” episode might go completely differently.

Jonny Lee Miller, with an excellent American accent, is for once in his acting life amiable and likeable as Eli. And with Victor Garber doing his usual excellent turn as a lawyer made from pure evil – and Eli’s soon-to-be father-in-law – it’s possibly worth watching for the cast alone. Well, if it weren’t plagued by Loretta Devine.

I’m also hoping that his college girlfriend doesn’t come back, either: she was way too floral and she’d bring her good-eye-contact-making, quick-name-learning ‘autistic’ son with her. A bit of depth to Natasha Henstridge’s character so she isn’t just the obvious ‘immoral’ woman who will try to divert him from the path of good would be nice as well (how many women, when hearing their fiancés have met up again with their ‘firsts’, suggest that they shag them to get it out of their system. Only heathen ones, of course).

I doubt it’s going to change the world and there’s nothing extraordinary about it, bar a couple of slightly unexpected twists, but it’s a reasonable enough way to spend an hour (including adverts).

Here’s a lovely YouTube trailer for you and you can see more clips at the ABC web site.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.